Saturday, April 03, 2010

The cost of Christmas: The Cross at Easter

In the Qatar, the emir has donated land to build Christian churches provided that the churches have no bells, steeples or a cross to identify them. The churches are the first to be built in this Islamic emirate in hundreds of years. The Catholic Our Lady of the Rosary Church ministers to mostly expats, many of which are Filipinos. The architecture of the church sans the cross looks remarkably like the modernist mosque architecture I have seen in Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.

And that is most likely what was intended. In Islamic states, proselytizing to Muslims is forbidden although non-Muslims may practice their religion. The Cross is the sign of the Christians and the very symbol itself is so central to faith and thus can convert the unbeliever.

Legend has it that Constantine the Roman Emperor was converted by seeing the Cross and the words "In hoc signo Vinces" meaning In this Sign Conquer. Constantine was the emperor to formally issue an edict given religious toleration to Christians. He was baptized on his deathbed.

Christians of the Catholic and Orthodox traditions sign themselves with the cross. This is probably the earliest prayer of the Church. Later on the cross was made visible with people wearing crosses. This practice has survived to the latter day but in many cases it has lost its value as a sacramental.

The cross remains central to the Gospel message. Christians are exhorted to take on their crosses. The message rang so clear to the US civil rights movement with the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King saying "The Cross is something you bear and ultimately die on"

Christians especially Catholics take on their crosses at the time of their baptism. Many of us were babies so our parents did that for us together with our godparents, who like Simon of Cyrene, help the parents bear the cross. The joys and sorrows of each parent is evidence of the cross that is borne for their children. But as the children grow into adults, the task of carrying the cross falls on them more as they make their own vows and lifelong decisions.

And here is where I remember the Holy Father Benedict XVI especially in this scandalous crisis facing the church. The cross that the Pope has to carry is heavy for he is on his way to Calvary like his Master before him. We laypeople were not called to such task, but can share in the task as we bear the faith on our shoulders. The Pope's cross has been taken on the day of his election at the conclave and now he carries the crosses we Catholics never took up. I have to pray for the man for he is a good man.

The cross is at the centre of each Christian feast. Christmas will lose all its meaning without the cross. The Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, feasts honouring the Theotokos Mary will be meaningless without the cross. The Feast of the Santo Nino is meaningless without the cross. Our baptism is useless without the cross and so the day when we get married, and the day the commendation is said before our coffins. The Rosary is meaningless without the Cross for indeed it physically has one.

Of course Easter shows why the Cross is important for at this Great Feast, we are assured that the Cross is the way by which sin and death are destroyed and we are led to Eternal life. Here at Easter we are asked to take the cross once more. I like the English Christmas Carol "What Child is This?" although as we celebrate more commercialized Christmases the line

"Nails, spears shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me and you."

is often unsung. But the line tell us exactly what was the cost of Christmas which was paid on Good Friday and redeemed on Easter Sunday. The Eastern Churches summarize the cost in visual terms in its icons of the Theotokos Mary. Mary carries his child, while the child is shown the instruments of sacrifice and he clings more to his mother. The icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, perhaps the best known of Eastern Icons to Pinoy Catholics is in this tradition, which the Greek church calls as the Theotokos of the Passion.

The Cross, the Sign of the Faith, and also at the centre of it, the cost of our choice.

Happy Easter to all.

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